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by Indiewire Staff
March 30, 2012 10:57 AM
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First Person: 'Bully' Writer-Producer Cynthia Lowen Speaks Out

Witnessing the bullying that was taking place on Alex’s bus and at his school was incredibly difficult. At the time, as we were not monitoring audio, there were also several bullying episodes that took place, including the first bus ride of the film, in which another boy violently verbally threatens Alex, that we did not realize had occurred until we were editing the film, many months later. Over the course of the year, certainly, a trust was built between us and Alex, and although we were often “flies on the wall,” Alex knew that we were there, and that there was a delicate balance in our work together to both make sure he was safe, but to also bear witness to the things that he had experienced for so long, in silence and isolation.

This film reflects the experiences of not only these five families, but of the 13 million kids and families who are bullied in this country every single year.

Ultimately, Lee and I did intervene. After witnessing escalating bullying on the bus, and knowing from Alex that it was even worse when we were not there, we decided to share the footage with his parents and with school officials, and to make sure action was taken to make him safe. As the film depicts, this moment was a turning point in his family’s awareness of the extent of Alex’s bullying, which he had kept from them up to that time, and led to him being taken off that bus.

Having the energy of Harvey Weinstein and The Weinstein Company behind this film has been an incredible journey, and has enabled "Bully" to have a reach, that at the beginning, we could have only dreamed of. This film had pretty humble beginnings, which probably sounds very familiar to many independent documentary filmmakers out there. We started this out of our own homes, with our own savings, knowing that this was the moment we had to begin this film; that we couldn’t wait for a grant to come through, or a financier. Fortunately, over time, we did get support from several great organizations, including Cinereach, the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention, the BeCause Foundation, the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust the Sundance Documentary Film Fund, and others, but throughout production, our team remained tiny: just Lee and I for the most part, him doing cinematography, me doing sound and production, or sometimes just Lee alone.

After the film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, in April 2009, and we were approached by The Weinstein Company, we knew they would be able to get this film to as many people as possible, and that they would make sure the voices of the kids and families in this film were heard—and had impact. As we hoped, having Harvey Weinstein as a champion of this film has given "Bully" an incredible opportunity to reach the millions of kids and families who are touched by this issue, and to generate real change in our society and culture.


  • Bob Rose | December 16, 2012 12:14 AMReply

    For Cynthia Lowen:

    I'll share the following article I wrote. It appeared in the October, 2011 issue of Pen World magazine.


    Many people would argue that handwriting is an obsolete skill, but no one seriously contends that reading is. Robert Rose, M.D., believes that handwriting is the key to literacy -- and he's spent years proving it.

    We retired and moved to Georgia in 1996. I began pushing for the adoption of E. D. Hirsch, Jr.'s Core Knowledge Curriculum and eventually made a big enough pest of myself to be interviewed by the then-superintendent of schools in Cobb County. An opponent of Hirsch, he finally admitted that, "ideally, all kids should learn a curriculum like Hirsch's, but too many kids just couldn't handle it."

    After thinking it over, I came to the conclusion that if they couldn't, it was because they lacked basic literacy and numeracy skills. America used to lead the world in education. Now we lead in high school dropouts.
    In Maria Montessori's 1912 book The Montessori Method, she claimed that preschoolers learn to read spontaneously once they became "expert" at writing the alphabet. I volunteered to tutor kids with reading problems at a local social agency. Within a few weeks I had cured two "dyslexic" boys, simply by working with them on writing the alphabet.

    By this time listservs were becoming popular. I joined TAWL (Teachers Applying Whole Language) and joined in their discussions. I begged members to count how many letters their first-graders could write in twenty seconds, then multiply by three to get a letters-per-minute (LPM) rate on each child, and to correlate that figure with each child's reading ability. To my amazement and joy, there was a universal and massive positive correlation -- even in classrooms of teachers who didn't agree with requiring fluency at anything. It turned out that "expert" meant an LPM of more than 39.

    The following school year (2003-04), I began my own free listserv at and enlisted five kindergarten teachers to help me prove Montessori's idea, which wasn't new or unique. In the first century, Marcus Quintilianus had written that, with regard to literacy, "too slow a hand impedes the mind". In the early twentieth century G. Vernon Hillyer wrote, "If you teach a child to write, you needn't bother teaching him to read."

    I repeated the experiment with different groups of K-1 teachers in 2008-09 and 2009-10. We always got the same result. This is a very important finding, but virtually no one in the establishment cares to investigate this possibility. Many of my acquaintances, however, are aware of the overarching importance of writing fluency. Children who can identify randomly presented alphabet letters as fast as they can write them, and who have a score of at least 40 LPM or better, are virtually assured of reading success.

    Writing fluency leads to literacy because it forces students to think about the appearances of letters, letter combinations and syllables. That is the secret of becoming literate.

    A cyber pal once mailed me a copy of an article from an obscure journal which purported to prove that if second-graders can give more than forty correct answers to simple addition facts per minute, they almost never have problems with math or science thereafter. And I believe this. It's true with music and with athletics: early fluency is an immense advantage.

    Robert Rose, M.D. practiced internal medicine in Long Island, N.Y., before retiring to Georgia.
    Further articles on the writing/reading connection are available at these URL's: (Deardorff in Chicago Tribune) (Graham/Carnegie article) (InTech free ebook, "Reflections on the Haptics of Writing".) (Zaner-Bloser info on writing/literacy) (Steve Graham article in American Educator) ( (scroll to bottom for my reading essay, "Chapter 12") (writing and literacy) (WaPost article on writing by Steve Graham) (Bob Rose on (Rand Nelson's blog on writing/reading) (Steve Graham article in American Educator) (writing and literacy) (WaPost article on writing by Steve Graham)

  • Marisol Carrere | April 2, 2012 1:16 AMReply

    I applaud the film makers for making this important documentary film, it commands attention. I know what you have been through, because I too have taken this journey with my film “I AM JULIA”. Congratulation to everyone and especially the children and their families for their courage in sharing their stories. I wish you all joy and the very best of luck…. Marisol

  • katy | March 30, 2012 11:29 AMReply

    I met the man of my dreasms on the place mentioned in my pic ==--TallLoving.c'0m---it gives you a chance to make your life better and open opportunities for you to meet the attractive young man and treat you AS a queen!